New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb and Columbia University professor Matthew Guariglia contextualize and abridge the groundbreaking 1968 report by President Johnson's National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission, drawing parallels between its dramatic findings about systemic racism and today's political debates on the subject.
The report itself remains remarkably salient and readable. Cobb’s and Guaraglia’s edits draw attention to misconceptions regarding the key players in civil unrest then and now: police, protestors and the media. On policing, the report does a great job of detailing how police-community confrontations were 'merely a spark' inciting unrest by embedding officer misconduct within larger structural inequalities — segregated neighborhoods, substandard housing and low-paying (or no) jobs ... While reinforcing the connection between systemic inequality and civil unrest, this section of the report shows why the press had failed at that very task ... Although the edits are helpful, the editors could have been more transparent about their process. They are vague on their reasoning...There are some interesting choices that would have benefitted from more explanation ... A Q&A section at the end fills in some gaps about what happened after the report’s release: Why didn’t Black residents just move out of blighted neighborhoods? Did the report discuss defunding the police? Has there been progress since it came out? This chapter is too short. I wouldn’t have complained if both the introduction and the Q&A were half again as long, providing just a bit more context ... This book is essential in the sense of containing the fundamental parts. But it is also essential in the sense of being an extremely important, even necessary, read. At a moment when the facts of history themselves are being undermined, when the Supreme Court has deemed civil-rights protection no longer necessary and the myth of white innocence has gained renewed traction, the Kerner Commission Report remains essential reading — discouragingly so.
With a perceptive introduction by historian Cobb...this version of the report, co-edited by historian Guariglia, is indeed essential for what it presents and why its findings still matter. This edition includes the vital parts of the original report; it largely omits individual accounts of many examples of unrest in the 1960s and lets the accounts from Detroit and Newark stand for the rest. As the original report insisted, and as this version does as well, white American society must understand these issues and act immediately and forcefully to correct these wrongs ... The Kerner Commission Report was in its day a tour de force of investigation and recommendation, with a sense of urgency that still echoes in this edition. What was true in 1967 remains so in the 21st century, and this version of the report might point the way toward a national resolution, if the United States summons the will and wherewithal to make change.
A timely distilled version of the powerful report on racism in the U.S. ... In this edited and contextualized version, New Yorker staff writer Cobb, with the assistance of Guariglia, capably demonstrates the continued relevance and prescience of the commission’s findings ... a superb introduction by Cobb and a closing section of frequently asked questions ... The book contains plenty of fodder for crucial national conversations and many excellent ideas for much-needed reforms that could be put into place now. A welcome new version of a publication that is no less important now than it was in 1967.